The three Warriors coaches who were most successful are much different personalities, but they all had a clear idea of what they wanted to do. Al Attles to Don Nelson to Steve Kerr — the thread is worth exploring.
Attles is definitely a Warrior for life. The Warriors are the only team he ever played for, he became a coach for them while he was still playing and, since he retired as coach, he has filled several roles for the organization, always elegantly attired and gracious to all.
When the Warriors traded Nate Thurmond before the start of the 1974-75 season, everybody mentally wrote off the team. But, they had drafted two really good players, Keith (later Jamaal) Wilkes and Phil Smith, and they had Rick Barry, who was very smart as well as talented.
Attles used his reserves almost as much as his starters and he alternated Clifford Ray and George Johnson at center. Neither was the scorer Thurmond had been but they were very good defenders and rebounders.
Barry ran the team on the court while also scoring more than 30 points a game and averaging about six assists. Attles’ calm approach allowed the team to peak at the end of the season and then roll through the playoffs, sweeping the Washington Bullets in the Finals.
The Warriors were a better team the next year but they had tired of Barry’s attitude. In the third quarter of what would be the game that eliminated them from the playoffs, they just stopped passing the ball to Barry.
Nelson certainly didn’t have a calm approach. He was a dictator who did not tolerate players who had contrary opinions, but when he had the Chris Mullin/Tim Hardaway/ Mitch Richmond combination, he had a very exciting team. He was also very smart and would always baffle opposing coaches in the first round of the playoffs with a different scheme.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t get past that first round because he never had the dominant big man the Celtics teams he had played on had in Bill Russell, and his attempts to get that big man always failed. If he’d had that big man? He probably would have become the second Warriors coach to win an NBA title.
Nelson had two runs as Warriors coach but he should be remembered for his first one because in his second run, he was more like an aging actor who was still fun to watch but nowhere near his prime.
Kerr has been a refreshing change in a new era. Mark Jackson improved the team on defense, but his personality cost him his job. Jackson didn’t trust anybody, not even allowing long-time broadcaster (and former Warriors player) Jim Barnett into practices.
Kerr is the direct opposite. He took advice from a 28-year-old assistant who was far down the coaching ladder in one Finals game. He talks individually to players so they know their roles, and longtime starters have accepted roles as backups.
He is also willing to make changes, as he did by going small in the final round against Cleveland.
The one thing he doesn’t do is mess with Steph Curry. He knows a great shooter when he sees one.
Three very different coaches, proof that there’s not just one winning formula. Two even won championships.